As Chief Digital Officer of Poker Central, PokerGO and ESP Gaming, J.R. McCabe (pictured) is responsible for managing the brands digital growth and expansion – while also leading the creation of video and TV content and the forging of new business models, partnerships and direct to consumer channels.
Prior to his current role, McCabe spent more than three years as Senior Vice-President of Video for Time Inc. It was there that McCabe led the build-out of, and managed, Time Inc.’s digital video business for more than 24 brands in the US, including People, Sports Illustrated, Fortune, Essence and Time.
Before joining Time Inc., McCabe spent more than six years at Meredith Corp, where he launched and led Meredith Video Studios. The team created and distributed original video and programming, as well as drove video revenue, across digital and TV platforms, for Meredith’s well-known brands including Better Homes and Garden, Parents and Fitness. Another of McCabe’s developments at Meredith, was the creation and launch of a first-of-its-kind national VOD network, Parents TV. He was later named the first ever Chief Video Officer of Meredith Corporation.
In an earlier role, McCabe managed the Eastern regional syndication sales team for CBS Paramount Television in New York. He also spent seven years at Universal Studios Television Distribution as SVP of program partnerships and sales, leading creation of their branded entertainment initiatives.
We caught up with McCabe recently to get his two cents on the emergence of 24/7 digital networks, live programming V.S. VOD, and the obstacles that lay ahead of the OTT industry.
Traditional 24/7 linear channels have made a reemergence in the digital world. However, there are some execs in the digital industry that feel a 24/7 cycle devalues content, especially when the service is ad-supported. Do you see value in the 24/7 digital format? Why?
I believe in the power of television as a medium–and 24/7 overall. I especially believe in the value of channels that have an established unique brand identity. Two great examples would be our partnerships with both ESPN and NBC Sports Network.
That said, I also believe in the power of social communities and like-minded individuals as an audience, and direct to consumer as a model. In looking at the marketplace in total, one needs to bear in mind that consumers are being increasingly selective in their “likes” and “dislikes” of what they will watch and where they will spend their time, due to the sheer scale of choice. In any effort to stand out among subscribers and viewers, there must be constant brand awareness, content category relevance and ongoing engagement with the brand/channel, regardless of format. With that in mind, building habits among target audiences is critical to any channel or networks success. So, for those reasons, yes, I see value in the 24/7 format.
Since its launch last year, PokerGo has become home to a slate of original content, including live events. How have live programs like “Poker After Dark” performed compared to PokerGo’s on demand content like reality series “Major Wager?”
We are very pleased with the way our overall programming is performing. While we are a live streaming channel at the core, originals are critical to the overall content offering and are a key element of our plan – and our programming mix of live and originals is proving to be successful. We continue to expand our PokerGO originals – ranging from reality series to documentaries – and more. On the live side, we are seeing excellent results. Though we do not release show-by-show data, the PokerGO viewers are extremely engaged in by content as our subscribers watch more than 500 minutes per month on average.
Poker Central distribute content across a variety of online platforms including Snapchat, Facebook, and Instagram. How does the company’s content strategy differ across platforms?
We are constantly tweaking and adjusting our content distribution plan. That plan is largely built upon user habits, including the platforms upon which they consume. We see social channels as an excellent – and vital – complement to our overall PokerGO offering. Social channels offer us an excellent opportunity to not only distribute our programming, but also to have a dialogue with our viewers and fans. Commentary and feedback from our social audience is something we solicit from them and is always an essential part of the mix as we consider new programming and the overall user experience.
When looking at Amazon Reviews for PokerGo, many point to audio dropouts and freezing as a main concern with the platform (an issue many streaming platforms deal with). What are your plans on the tech front to ease these concerns?
We are constantly working to offer the best user experience to our subscribers and viewers. Inevitably, when you produce nearly a thousand hours of live streaming per year, there are bound to be some challenges. But we are hyper focused on optimizing the user experience to make it as flawless as possible for our PokerGO subscribers.
What is your biggest concern regarding the future of the OTT industry?
Simply put, market oversaturation continues to rear its head. While competition is great – and vital to the continued growth of OTT/digital – the advent of “whenever you want, wherever you want it” and the ability of IP owners of any size and shape to put their content out into the world is a double-edged sword. In this new paradigm, audiences and consumers have a glut of choices from which to consume content, but how are they going to discover said content? I anticipate that this will reach a breaking point sooner, rather than later – the whole reason OTT and cord-cutting became popular in the first place was because traditional TV/Cable offered too many options that the average viewer never watched. Now, the same will happen on the OTT side – there’s a lot of options that people want – and have – to pay for. Naturally, once the monthly subscription bills start to pile up, consumers will have to choose where they allocate their hard-earned dollars. Of course, we think our niche offering is very competitive and well-positioned to stand the test of time, but the overall shakeout is inevitable.